Melody Casey
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
Upper Primary
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Education Standards

    Impacts of Aluminum Cans (AIG IRP)

    Impacts of Aluminum Cans (AIG IRP)


    The students will explore the impacts of aluminum cans and the process of recycling.  The task requires the students to gather and graph data about aluminum can use as well as interpret the data collected.  At the conclusion of the lesson, the students develop a plan for future action in regards to recycling.  This lesson was developed by NCDPI as part of the Academically and/or Intellectually Gifted Instructional Resources Project. This lesson plan has been vetted at the state level for standards alignment, AIG focus, and content accuracy.

    Lesson Overview

    Brief Description of Lesson/Task/Activity: The students will explore the impacts of aluminum cans and the process of recycling.  The task requires the students to gather and graph data about aluminum can use as well as interpret the data collected.  At the conclusion of the lesson, the students develop a plan for future action in regards to recycling.

    Time Frame: 1-2 class periods

    Type of Differentiation for AIGs:

    • Enrichment
    • Extension

    Adaptations for AIGs:

    • Content
    • Process

    Explanation of How Resource is Appropriate for AIGs: This task requires higher level thinking such as analyzing and evaluating while focusing on a real world problem or concern.  It allows students to understand the impacts of humans on the environment.

    Needed Resources/Materials:

    • Computer access (to watch video)
    • Materials (if accessible)- banana, paper bag, cotton rag, wool sock, leather boot, rubber sole (of boot), tin can, aluminum can


    Mathematical Practices:

    1.  Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
    4.  Model with mathematics.
    6.  Attend to precision
    7.  Look for and make use of structure.

    Stage 1: Engage

    Draw students' attention to the items you have gathered (see list below). You might ask, What do all the items have in common? (Each of the items will likely end up in a landfill one day.)  What will happen to these items when they end up in the landfill? How long do you think they will last there? Do they disappear/disintegrate/degrade immediately? Or will they continue to take up space in the landfill? Let students freely discuss those questions.  Ask students to think on their own about how long each of the items on the list might last when buried in a landfill and recreate the list by writing each item in order according to how long they think it might last in a landfill. Students should start their lists with the item they think will degrade fastest and end with the one that will last the longest.  Let students share their lists and discuss what they believe to be the correct sequence. Ask each group to come to a consensus about the correct order of the items.

    At the conclusion of the discussion, reveal to students the best guesstimates of scientists, who say the following is the correct sequence:

    • banana -- 3 to 4 weeks
    • paper bag -- 1 month
    • cotton rag -- 5 months
    • wool sock -- 1 year
    • leather boot -- 40 to 50 years
    • rubber sole (of the boot) -- 50 to 80 years
    • tin can (soup or vegetable can) -- 80 to 100 years
    • aluminum can (soda pop can) -- 200 to 500 years

    Point out the amount of time the aluminum cans take to disappear/decompose.  Have the students watch the video on recycling aluminum cans: 

    Have a brief discussion about their reactions to the video. 

    Stage 2: Elaborate

    Points to emphasize:  Recycling aluminum reduces energy use by 90%. Energy saved from recycling one aluminum can will run a TV for 3 hours.  Recycling one aluminum can saves the energy equivalent of one cup of gasoline.  Recycling aluminum reduces air pollution by 95%.  An aluminum can takes 200-500 years to decompose.

    Fifty Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (Javna, 1990) states that a typical American uses 1,500 aluminum cans each year. How many cans do you and your classmates ordinarily use in a day?  (Alternatively, students could compile similar data for their family's use of aluminum cans.)  How could you determine this information?  Students need to decide on the most appropriate way to gather and organize the data.  Additionally, students need to determine the best way to display the data.  Data shouldn’t be gathered simply to make a graph.  It is important that the students interpret and analyze the data collected (sample population-class data) in order to make inferences on larger population (average American). What can we determine about the number of cans used daily among our class?  Based on our class data, what is a typical number of cans used?  On the basis of the number of cans you use daily, determine the number of cans you might use in a year.  How does your number compare with 1,500?  How did your individual data compare to the overall class data?   

    Once data is collected and represented, students can then compose questions that can be answered by using the scaled bar graph.  Example of some possible question, “How many total cans etc….

    Each recycled aluminum can saves approximately 3 hours of electricity.  How many hours would be saved with 10 aluminum cans? If you want to save 240 hours of electricity, how many cans would need to be recycled?  Explain your thinking.  What is the relationship between the number of cans recycled and the number of hours of electricity saved? What strategy did you use to determine the relationship?  How many hours of electricity would you save for each of your recycled cans (typical in a day)? 

    Stage 3: Evaluate

    Aluminum cans may be recycled many times, which allows more of the metal to be used for airplanes, bicycles, and building materials. Less energy is used. Write some things you might do to recycle or conserve aluminum.  Prepare a presentation to the city council making a case for recycling aluminum cans.  Be sure to include mathematical data in your presentation. Presentations should be evaluated based on the accuracy of the information and math included and the clarity of the argument presented.